The long awaiting and much requested followup to my post on reusable period products is here! And I actually can’t believe that it’s nearing my 2 year anniversary of switching to reusable period products! 2 years since I sent my friends panicked Whatsapp messages saying “just bought a Mooncup in Boots? Now what?” I have to say- it’s honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I really hope that this series of blog posts inspires and helps you make the jump to a more eco-friendly, purse-friendly, person-friendly period!
Now before we go into the details- today we’re covering my experiences with reusable pads and period underwear- here is a reminder of my little disclaimer:
- This is my personal experience of using these products- every person is different so what might work for me, may not work for you
- I always find things like this difficult to write because of my day job- being a doctor I worry people will take what I say differently. But I am writing this from a ‘person who menstruates’ point of view rather than a medical/doctoring point of view. If you have any queries around your own physical needs please speak to your health professional
- Having said that, being a doctor means I have a no frills approach to speaking about these things. So don’t expect euphemisms! I remember a friend asking for my ‘birth story’ and it was only afterwards (and from the trauma on her face) that I realised that she had meant in a ‘blogger’ kind of way…not a down-to-the-gory-detail kind of way. My bad. But one of the great barriers for a lot of us accessing health care is this ingrained idea that we should be ashamed/embarrassed of our body. The more we talk openly about periods, the better. So expect the ‘v-word’ and more…
- Ok so I’m going to break rule no.2 in a small way. Because seeing as you’re here I just want to point you to the NHS Heavy Period Self-Assessment. Whenever I speak to patients about their periods they tell me “oh it’s normal”, but that means nothing to me! I’ve had patients tell me their periods are ‘normal’ when in actual fact they’re desperately anaemic from their heavy periods. And when I’ve asked them why they didn’t come earlier they just thought that was what periods were like because that’s what is ‘normal’ to them. This Self Assessment is a quick and handy way to see if your periods are classed as ‘heavy’ and if you need to speak to your doctor.
Ok. Now we’re ready to go onto the good stuff!
Pads, Pants or Period cups?
Before I go onto the specifics of each period product, I’m going to give you a bit of the lowdown on what I use for my cycle. I find one of the most common questions I get asked is “which one should I use? A menstrual cup? Pads or period pants?” I get why people ask this- if you’re going to invest in these products which one do you go for? But I think the correct answer is actually less about trying to find one holy grail product and see it as a bit of mix and match. That’s what I’ve found works for me. While my main go-to is my menstrual cups, there are some days where the cup is a bit OTT(lighter flow days/end of the period) or recently I had one cycle where for some reason I was just really uncomfortable with cramps and reached for the other products instead.
For reference, on a typical cycle I use my period underwear at the beginning as my period builds up, then switch to the cup for heavy flow days. And then switch back to underwear or pads for the latter part of the period.
As well as periods being very different for each individual, they vary from month to month for that person too. So you might find a mix of products suits you best.
Onto the actual products! Remember that my post on menstrual cups is here.
So I actually have always preferred to use ‘double protection’ so I knew I was going to need to have something to help alongside the cup in case of any leaks (tbh I think that’s only happened a couple of times- but I like the security!) I ended up buying some reusable pads online last minute before a holiday.
What are they?
Generally speaking these are cloth pads which are shaped like your typical sanitary pads, with wings to the side. The fabrics vary but most have a minky/bamboo absorbent top layer(or layers depending on how absorbent that pad is meant to be) and then a waterproof outer. Instead of the sticky adhesive wings of the plastic pads, most have a popper to secure around the gusset of your underwear.
How do you use them?
You would wear them the same way you use ‘regular’ pads. How often you change them will depend on how thick they are (and therefore absorbent) and how heavy your flow is. To wash them, most companies advise that you do a cold soak before putting them into a normal wash in the machine (30C) but most importantly- without any fabric softener/bleach and not to tumble dry them!
Be aware that you’ll have to rinse them out- which means handling brown/red water and sometimes…bits. It doesn’t bother me but just something to think about if you’re sensitive to that.
Well they’re much more affordable than ready to wear Period pants which is a big plus. And they work well as panty liners or as ‘back up’. I think if you were going to use them as your only product you’d need enough to cover you for the day and also consider the heaviness of your period. Remember that the more absorbent pads are thicker, and with that can be more noticeable/uncomfortable wearing them. The other thing to think about is the material it’s made out of. As you’d expect, the minky/made-made fibres are a little more sweaty… Yeah I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions there…
Like I said, I can only give you my experiences of them- and if you read my last post, you’ll know I’m not a fan of pads in general (I don’t like the feeling of it against my skin/messiness). Personally I’m not hot on the idea of using them on a heavy flow day as my only product. I would definitely have to change it during the day while at work. Although mine comes with a waterproof storage bag (so I can store them in there after doing a cold rinse) I’m not sure that would be ideal for most people when they’re out and about!
The other thing that really annoyed me about pads is that even with the popper, they slide can around and bunch up your underwear. For lighter pads/panty liners I don’t think this is such an issue but on the thicker ones you might need to tend to a wedgie every now and then. I don’t wear them at night because of this though.
I feel like I might have come across more negative with that review- but I say all of that so you know what it’s like. Truthfully, I still use my pads every cycle so maybe the proof is in that? Plus they are still way more preferable to plastic pads (I’m traumatised by that ‘cotton feel’ scratchiness- why have ‘cotton feel’ when you can have *actual* cotton??) I also think lighter ones would be a great alternative for liners (for light period days or even day-to-day use). I have a set of 10 (I think) and have no issues around running out. And like I said, they have their own waterproof wash bag which I store them in after a cold soak in the bathroom and then throw straight into the wash (bag and all).
The other upside with pads is that they’d be really easy to make for yourself (and a great stash buster)-there are lots of tutorials out there or you could wing it (lol) and trace around an existing pad and experiment with core materials.
I should probably caveat this mini review with the fact that it is nearly 2 years since I bought my original pairs- since then the market for these has exploded and there are a lot more options out there.
What are they?
Period product AND underwear built into one! These are made up similarly to the pads- the gusset/crotch area of the underwear is made up of three layers- the inner layer which sits against the skin and is moisture wicking, the middle which is the absorbent layer and the outer layer which is waterproof (mostly PUL layered fabrics). Again you can get different types for different levels of flow/heaviness.
How do you use them?
You wear them! You wear them instead of your regular underwear and depending on the absorbency and your flow you may need to change between a few pairs a day. After using them the same care instructions apply: a cold soak before putting them into a normal wash in the machine (30C) and most importantly- without any fabric softener/bleach (and not to tumble dry them!)
They take a lot of the fuss of pads away. Although the gusset area is slightly thicker (and bigger in size overall), because it’s built into the underwear and seamed in, you don’t get twisting and turning that you can get with the pads. Things just ‘sit’ a bit better. Plus there are some really nice designs out there so you don’t have to resign yourself to using your more…err… worse for wear underwear for periods! Companies also make them in different underwear types- boxer short? Low rise briefs? Bridget Jones’? You can find them all!
Things to consider: I’m not sure how easy it would be to take off your entire underwear in a cubicle when you’re out/or at work though? You’d also have to walk around with a few pairs of undies in your bag ‘in case’? I did see a suggestion for people to use a pad on top of them if you are out from home so you can just switch them out easily instead of the actual pant? So that’s an option?
But a big thing (for me) about period underwear is the price point- they are more expensive and like I said you’d have to invest in quite a few pairs to cover you for the whole period. Long term the costs are still a lot cheaper compared to using disposable products, but the upfront cost is higher- something to think about. But of course it is also possible (and not that hard) to make your own! I’ve actually got a whole blog post up with Spoonflower as part of my Ambassadorship, on exactly that if you’re interested. The only thing I would say is: don’t dive into that as your first underwear project- try making some regular underwear to get comfortable with the process (you can check my tips here)before moving onto period wear. In my blog post you’ll see more details about the specialist fabric I used for my gusset (and the cheat steps I took to make it a quicker sew!) The Zorb 4D fabric I used is pricey but you can get a lot of gussets out of 0.5m worth! (You can also buy it in fat quarters too).
Making my own has been a game-changer and I think I will probably aim to make enough to cover me for a cycle and think eventually they might replace my pad use. I also think that they are great for young ‘uns who are just starting out with period products.
A couple of random things (which apply to both products):
Do they smell? With both options I haven’t found any issues with smells- but again, if you’re sensitive to that you might want to think about the combination of products you use and make sure you’re changing them as often as suggested
Do they hold up to washing? My pads still look exactly the same! Period pants seem to wear a bit quicker- but they have elastic etc which are more prone to degrading with wear and use.
Do they stain? I’ve not had any issues with this, but I have also carefully bought ones in darker colours. For my me-made versions I bought the black Zorb fabric and then colour co-ordinated my printed fabric to add a bit of colour-blocking.
So that is the final of of my posts on reusable period products. I still encourage you to explore/research the options and just take that first step into reusable products. That feels like the hardest bit! But I promise you won’t regret it! And don’t forget everyone is different- but hopefully you can see how the mix-and-match approach works for me.
Hope that’s helpful, feel free to shoot me any questions in the comments!